For the first time in its 43-year history, the Norfolk Churches Trust arranged and hosted a national conference of sister heritage charities.
The 100-strong gathering at Norwich Cathedral’s Hostry included representatives from at least 15 county trusts across the country from Cornwall to Nottingham.
One delegate from the United States, Christopher Munoz, of the United Methodist Church, Pomeroy, had travelled about 4,600 miles from Washington State.
Peter Sheppard, the trust’s chairman, welcomed delegates and the dozen speakers. Announcing the conference theme: “Faith & Place: A Future for the Isolated Rural Church,” he introduced the Dean of Norwich, the Very Rev Jane Hedges, and the NCT’s president, Lord Dannatt.
In brief opening remarks Lord Dannatt stressed the remarkable achievement of the trust since it was established in 1976. And it was both a “joy and a challenge” to help conserve and maintain Norfolk’s 659 medieval churches, he added.
In the past 43 years, a total of £6.5m had been raised by the trust, which also had taken on the care of a further 13 “leased” churches, said Lord Dannatt.
Lord Dannatt said that the NCT had awarded £182,000 in grants to some 48 parishes last year. This had been possible because of the success of fund-raising events including the annual Bike Ride, he added.
As the Prince of Wales, the charity’s patron, stated in a welcome letter to delegates, the trust had given more than £4m in grant aid to churches.
Mr Sheppard said that there was a massive challenge to care for the country’s heritage of religious buildings. In the Church of England, there were 16,000 churches, of which 12,500 were listed and 45% were grade I listed. The National Trust, which cared for about 500 properties, had 5.5 million members and revenue of £500m while English Heritage had some 400 properties and membership of close to one million.
The Norfolk Churches Trust was founded to maintain and conserve around 900 churches or almost as many as the total number of properties cared for by the National Trust and English Heritage.